Thursday, July 4, 2013

Flying without ID

Tuesday, July 2, I lost my wallet somewhere between my bleary 7:30 taxi to McCormick Place and the shuttle back to Michigan Avenue two hours later. The American Library Association National Conference was winding down, so I couldn't hold out much hope a kind librarian would find and return it, but I did find the series of events that unfolded at the airport the next morning fascinating and potentially useful for other people.

Within an hour of realizing the loss, I'd called the non-emergency number for a police report (done over the phone, to my surprise). I canceled my American Express and Visa. I called the TSA, then O'Hare TSA. 

"People forget their ID all the time," said the weary-sounding agent. "We have a procedure. When you get to security, tell them exactly what you told me."

When I revealed to the screener that I didn't have ID, a brisk man came out from the back of the security area. I knew he wasn't the airport supervisor, because I'd heard HIS voicemail message about being on vacation until after the holiday, but this guy was undeniably in charge.

"None of this exists," he says, waving away the black and white printouts of my passport and new driver's license that I made from the ALA computers. "We can't take reproductions."

He is younger than me, but constantly harangues the other officers. "Who's on break? Anyone not on break needs to give me an explanation why the line is so long. And why weren't these people with their bags?"
"You pack it, you deal with it," he said. "This is what pisses me off."

He asks what I have with me with my name on it. I find my Alabama Education Association card and Council of Leaders of Alabama Schools card, both nested with my loyalty codes instead of in my wallet. "What are these?" he asks.

"Union cards," I respond.

He says that while I don't have government issued ID, I have ancillary ID, so he would let me through.

He starts using codes with the army of agents -- DID (don't have ID?) and "modified female assist," which ended up being terribly thorough. To her credit, the officer did clarify just what she'd be doing, and check that it was okay she do it out in public. She explored every inch of the seams of my white Gap skinny jeans.

Without my wallet, I had been worried about not having enough money to check my bag. I could give them the scant $25 in borrowed and found cash I had. But what if it is was over weight? I spent Tuesday night condensing my belongings. But I shouldn't have worried. I actually didn't touch my bags again after I revealed I didn't have proper identification.

The officer in charge moved them through the x-ray machine himself, using the plastic cups for wallets and jewelry to isolate my bags and gives a coded instruction, "between the bowls."

After my pat-down, he starts inside my bags. He opens the zippered compartments holding high heeled shoes, hardback books, documents in Sanrio folders. He pokes at my clothes, largely combinations of purple, silk and floral, with an Isadora Duncan-esque quantity of scarves. It is then that he says to me, "You don't happen to be one of those librarians, do you?"

"Oh, wait," says another officer walking by, smirking ever so slightly "You're coming from that library conference, too?" 

The search was markedly lessened in ferocity. 

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